We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.
Nathan wakes to the eerie landscape of a too-bright dawn, light refracting within and against the crystalline ice driving through the air. He’s been smelling the blizzard on the wind for two days past, and now it’s finally settled in, long white fingers crawling north from Boston in the night. Schools are closed across the state, non-essential government workers told to stay home, travel discouraged. Mainers across the state, used to the harsh winters, have settled in before their pellet stoves, back-up generators at the ready.
He’s lived in Haven all his life, and winter storms like this have a familiar rhythm: The preparation, the advent, the collective pause as the storm rages, followed by the industrious scrape of snowplows and shovels as the town digs out.
On the bedside table the police radio stands silent. After breakfast, he and Audrey will probably leave Duke to putter around the Gull and make their way into the station -- hibernation, he’s observing anew this winter, doesn’t suit Audrey at all well. Protests of patience aside, twelve hours into any storm she’s pacing from room to room, distracted by inaction.
Midway through the last winter season, Duke had finally cracked and driven at a creeping pace down to Freeport on the third day of a heavy snow and returned with snowshoes for all three of them. Now, when she got too restless, one of them would drag her out for a trek across town on a visit to old Mrs. Greenwood, to make sure she had enough wood for the stove, or up the hill to Rev. Abernathy to see that his chickens had been fed. It helped Audrey to help people.
Mainers born and bred, he and Duke have their own ways of coping. Duke reads, tinkers, feeds them copious amounts of food. Nathan has always liked the sensory challenge that a snowstorm brings: the change to light and sound and smell, both dulling and sharpening simultaneously. Cold air makes sound travel further; snow softens the vibrations against his eardrums. The sharp dampness invades his nose and throat and lungs. The light shifts, saturating the world with a silencing light: He feels it now, as he lays in bed under Duke’s eiderdown comforter. Sharper and softer, like sound, like smell. A confusion of senses.
He’s been sleeping with an arm and a leg slung across Duke’s torso, and if he squints he can see beyond the hills and valleys of the bedclothes the snow driving hard across the window pane. It’s been falling since maybe 10 o’clock the night before, steady, winds whipping across the bay, blowing drifts up along the porch and into the corners of every window frame. He realizes it’s the silence that’s woken him -- the howling wind that filled his dreams has ebbed, leaving only soundless drifting in its wake.
Behind him, Audrey coughs in her sleep and rolls over, coming up hot and solid against the length of his back with the shock of sensation that, after nearly five years, no longer confounds his sensory processing but just reads as Audrey. She runs hot at night, and although she’d come to bed in sweatpants and one of Duke’s river driver shirts, at some point in the night she must have shucked them because she’s naked. He can feel the soft press of her breasts beneath his shoulders, the tickle of her fur against his ass as she slides her thigh over his left leg, pressing herself along crevices where his own flesh and Duke’s meet.
Nathan breathes deep, scenting, tasting against the back of his throat: the carbon monoxide smell of sleep, the stale sweat secreted in the curl of hair behind Duke’s ear, traces of the shampoos and soaps they’d all three used the morning before, the Tom’s toothpaste Duke prefers, the Crest that Audrey always buys, the musk of sex.
In the morning light, Nathan listens to Duke’s breathing, steady and sure, and the thump-ha thump-ha thump-ha of Duke’s heart reaching his ears as it echoes through Duke’s veins. Softer yet, he can hear Audrey’s sleepy beat as well, resonating through the back of his ribcage, blending with his own pulse. He can feel the rise and fall of her chest, the soft warmth, the condensation against his skin as she exhales, snuffling slightly and burrowing deeper beneath the blankets, pressing him up against Duke’s lanky form.
He lets her shift him forward, curls his hand up around Duke’s neck, a gesture of possessiveness he still marvels he’s allowed to make. It’s so achingly peaceful here, folded between the two of them: Solitude without loneliness. A sensation far more novel than the caress of Audrey’s hands, the flush of her skin.
Here, in this bed, the world is enough.
Outside, the snow continues to fall.